Appellate Case Law Update – No Nitpicking Proposals for Settlement

April 13, 2018 by on News

The Second District Court of Appeal continued the recent trend of discouraging trial courts and counsel from nitpicking proposals for settlement to search for ambiguities in Bright House Networks, LLC v. Cassidy, et al., 43 Fla. L. Weekly D654a (Fla. 2d DCA Mar. 23, 2018).  Defendant Bright House served a proposal for settlement on one of the five Plaintiffs, Albert B. Cassidy.  After prevailing on summary judgment, the defense sought attorney’s fees for the unaccepted proposal.  The proposal at issue stated:  “4. Relevant Conditions:  Upon acceptance of this proposal, Offeree shall, within ten (10) days thereof, cause this civil action to be dismissed with prejudice as to all claims against Offeror. . . .  6. Claims to be Resolved:  This proposal is to settle and otherwise fully and completely resolve all claims asserted by Offeree against Offeror in this action.” 

The trial court agreed with the Plaintiff that the proposal was ambiguous in terms of what claims were required to be dismissed upon acceptance.  It appears the potential ambiguity was whether the proposal was joint offer to all five Plaintiffs insofar as paragraph 4 sought “this civil action to be dismissed with prejudice as to all claims against Offeror.”   Nevertheless, the appellate court reversed citing the Florida Supreme Court for the proposition that “it may be impossible to rid proposals for settlement from all ambiguity.”  It also recognized the recent policy that “courts are discouraged from nitpicking proposals for settlement to search for ambiguity,” and that proposals must be read as a whole to determine whether it is ambiguous.  The appellate court found that paragraph 6 clearly indicated that the claims to be resolved were only those asserted by Offeree (Albert B. Cassidy) against Offeror (Bright House). It was not reasonable to argue that the proposal was a joint offer to all the plaintiffs since it was directed only to Albert B. Cassidy.

While the appellate court found this proposal unambiguous, an appeal likely would not have occurred had the drafting party made it clear in both paragraphs 4 and 6 that the claims to be resolved were only those brought by the Offeree, Albert Cassidy.  Proposals should always be written clearly to identify the exact claims they resolve, especially when more than one Plaintiff is involved. 

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Kevin D. Franz
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